A former Hampton Bays motel converted into a homeless shelter two years ago, and scheduled to close by the end of the summer, was evacuated two months ahead of schedule after mold was discovered in the building, according to officials.
The final nine families who had been living in the Hidden Cove Motel on West Tiana Road were moved from the facility on July 31 to various other shelters throughout the county after mold was found by officials with the Suffolk County Department of Social Services.
The cause of the mold outbreak is still being investigated by the owner of the property, listed in town records as LAML Realty Corp., and Patchogue-based Community Housing Innovations Inc., the nonprofit organization that has been actually renting the rooms, providing them to homeless families and later being reimbursed by the DSS.
A DSS inspection last month concluded that the building, which overlooks the water, contained black mold—known to cause respiratory, circulatory and immune system issues, among other conditions—though the attorney representing the motel owner is refuting that the mold in question is of that variety. In an email, attorney Mark Nadjar alleges that misuse by the tenants caused flooding in some of the units, and he blames the mold outbreak on the failure of tenants “to clean regularly as required by the parties’ written agreement.”
Alec Roberts, the executive director of CHI, refuted those allegations, writing in an email that “there is no evidence of any significant ‘flooding’ in the units, and we have ample evidence of [LAML’s] failure to clean up mold which we complained about in the basement which is not in the tenant’s control and pre-dated our occupancy.”
Property manager Brian Phelps declined to comment.
Originally slated to close as a shelter on September 30, the motel has been a point of contention between Southampton Town and Suffolk County officials, because the latter converted the motel to a homeless shelter without first notifying the town or community. Opponents charge that the property is not zoned for year-round occupancy and have raised issues with the status of its septic system.
At its peak, the facility housed 28 families in 33 motel rooms when it opened in 2011, and still had 20 families residing there as recently as June, which still exceeded the county limit of 12 families for such shelters.
Town officials said they were not surprised by the shelter’s premature closing.
“When that arrangement was made for them to close down in September, they did say that, in all likelihood, it would come before then,” said Jennifer Garvey, a spokeswoman for Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.
She said town officials do not yet know how the discovery of mold will impact future plans for the property; they had hoped to work with the owner and reopen it as a motel at some point.
County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, another opponent of the shelter, said he was not made aware of the mold problem until Monday, but he had expected the shelter to be closed by now. He has been battling the shelter since 2011, at one point joining forces with Ms. Throne-Holst to petition the office of County Executive Steve Bellone to close it down and relocate residents closer to their original towns.
“Had that Hidden Cove facility been filled with families from the East End, that would have been a different story,” he said. ”But it was not.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he hopes Hidden Cove will reopen as a motel or be replaced by condominiums. The county legislator also noted that the DSS had been paying about $50 per unit, per night, to utilize the rooms at Hidden Cove. Mr. Schneiderman added that the fee being charged by LAML Realty Corp was considerably lower than what other motel owners are now collecting, suggesting that the company is just looking to make whatever money it can.
Robert Liner, a founding member of the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays—a group formed, in part, to call for the closure of the homeless shelter—said the mold is a sign of negligence by all parties.
“It shows the irresponsibility of all parties involved in placing people in a facility that was not suited for that use,” Mr. Liner said. “And it goes across the board from Department of Social Services [to] CHI, they’re all pointing fingers at each other.”
John O’Neil, the acting commissioner of the DSS, said the department’s contract with CHI expires in September and that the county has no interest in using the Hampton Bays facility in the future.
Mr. O’Neil declined to comment on the nature of the mold or any other issues with the units, stating that the DSS was concerned only with making sure no one was put in danger by living in hazardous conditions.
“This is a dispute between the lessee and the lessor, which we are neither,” he said.